Dilip Vengsarkar – “Colonel”
Swashbuckling entry into big league-
In my recollection I cannot recall a single player who announced his arrival in big league cricket as emphatically and resoundingly as Dilip Vengsarkar. Not even Gavaskar, nor Tendulkar. As a 19 year old in 1975 in an Irani trophy match he strode the Nagpur stadium like a colossus. In only his 2nd match for Bombay, coming in at a precarious 98-3, Vengsarkar launched into India’s top spinners Prasanna and Bedi mauling them to all corners of the ground with a scintillating 110 studded with 11 fours and 7 sixes. There was hardly any part of the field that his breathtaking shots didn’t pierce. Apparently his aerial shots had so much resemblance to CK Nayadu’s that he earned the sobriquet of “Colonel”. Unlikely Prasanna, Bedi can ever forget that day in a hurry when they were treated like school bowlers by this new kid on the block. There was hardly a cricket fan across India who wasn’t excited at the prospect of this new sensation being inducted into the National team.
1980’s – India’s batting pillar
He was immediately picked for the NZ tour in 76 and for several years batted in different slots from #2-6 before settling down at #4. Alongside Gavaskar and Viswanath, he formed the bulwark of Indian batting through the 80’s. His rise in stature was steady and he was Wisden’s cricketer of the year in 1987, a no small feat. He was one of the few batsmen who was successful against the likes of Marshall, Holding and Roberts notching up 6 centuries.
Rahul Dravid invariably mentioned Ganguly as “the God of the offside”. Deservedly so. No less in any ways was Vengsarkar’s signature on-drive. A tall, upright man with a copybook statuesque stance, his on-drives were nothing less than sublime. Though he was proficient in practically every shot in the book, he got a bulk of his runs with his on-drives. A sight to behold!!
Lord of “Lords”
Lords is known as the Mecca of cricket. Every international batsman aspires to score atleast one hundred at Lords. Plenty never get it. But Dilip Vengsarkar scored not just one but three hundreds. His name is registered permanently in the annals at Lords. He holds the record for being the only international batsman with three hundreds. Speaks to his mastery and technique in negotiating the moving ball in England, an anathema to most Indian batsmen grown up on feather beds at home.
What Mumbai cricket meant to him
Bombay by far is the most successful side in Ranji Trophy with 41 titles. But despite all its most memorable triumphs there is also one painful disaster at home in a thrilling final vs. Haryana in 1991 which Mumbai lost by a mere 2 runs. It featured a lion-hearted Vengsarkar fighting single-handedly in the autumn of his illustrious career. After conceding a first innings lead, Mumbai’s must-win target to hold the trophy aloft was 355. But they were soon reeling at 34-3. But steadily Vengsarkar, in partnerships with Tendulkar and Kambli, inched closer to the target. The 9th wicket fell at 305 and all seemed lost but Vengsarkar was by no means giving up. In one single over in a spirited counter-attack he smashed 6,4,6,6,4 to get Bombay within striking distance. All this despite a thigh injury and needing a runner. Sadly the end was tragic and farcical with a runout of his runner (Rajput) in a needless run. The sight of the distraught Mumbai’s senior most star unbeaten on 139, dropping down to his knees at Wankhede and bawling like a child has been indelibly imprinted in every Bombay cricket lover’s mind and heart forever. It felt like Bombay had lost the World Cup. So intense was the pain. More importantly it showed Vengsarkar’s defiant and competitive spirit in a never-say-die effort as a champion. Something he has done consistently for India.
Post retirement he’s been a National selector He runs a few cricket academies in Mumbai and Pune. Hoping plenty good talent emerges from his stable in the future.
Though Viswanath is synonymous with style and artistry and Gavaskar with technical brilliance, it was Vengsarkar’s enigmatic mix of dazzling aggression (when in mood) and patient defense that formed the crucial 3rd pillar for India. If my life depended on a batsman fighting till the end and getting me across the finish line, I’ll bet my last dollar (INR) on Dilip Vengsarkar. His name without a shadow of doubt ranks in the pantheon of Indian cricketing greats. Some beautiful memories!
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